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How to effectively manage your sports injuries

For those injured as a result of a sporting accident, treatment will depend upon how badly hurt they are and the area of the body affected.

For those sports injuries that are not severe enough for medical treatment, such as milder strains and sprains, management at home can be undertaken with the RICE therapy.

What is RICE?

RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and is recommend by medical professional sin the immediate aftermath of an injury.

Rest: Where possible you should rest by reducing activity. Time is the greatest healer not to mention minimising the risk of making things worse should you carry on.

Ice: Can be applied to the injured area for between ten minutes and half an hour. Frozen peas will work just as well as pure ice, but make sure whatever is used is wrapped in a towel to prevent the ice burning the skin (you don’t need to increase the number of ailments).

Compression: Swelling resulting from a sports injury can be limited by using compression bandages or a support.

Elevation: Ensure the injured knee, leg, elbow, arm or wrist is kept elevated above heart level. This will help to minimise any swelling by reducing the flow of blood to the area.

Once RICE therapy has been implemented for 48 hours, it is important to start focussing on moving the injured limb.

Your GP should be contacted after this time if symptoms do not improve or worsen as further treatment may be required following a professional diagnosis. While RICE therapy works well in the majority of milder sports injuries, additional care may be required for more severe cases.

What are my options for pain relief?

Paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can be taken to reduce pain and swelling. Never administer aspirin to children under the age of 16 years.

Where there is persistent inflammation, it may be necessary to administer a corticosteroid injection. These can be repeated every three to six months and usually result in significantly improved levels of pain. There is a tiny risk of side effects from the injection, including infection.

Compression or the use of ice on the affected area can also offer pain relieving qualities, though the latter is not really practical on the move.

How can a physiotherapist help?

Those who have sustained a sports injury may require physiotherapy input. This typically involves manipulation, massage or the implementation of a programme of special exercises designed to improve both movement and function.

Following the session a physiotherapist will provide a bespoke plan for you to follow inbetween sessions to continue working on your rehabilitation.

What about heat therapy?

Heat therapy in the form of heat pads or lamps can work to stimulate the blood flow into the affected area. There is some evidence that this may speed up the healing process. Heat will also help to reduce pain caused by the injury.

It is worth noting that the application of heat (or ice) depends on the type of injury sustained. If you are in doubt check out our ice versus heat guide.

Ultrasound therapy appears to increase the speed at which broken bones heal and may work similarly for sports injuries, although evidence for this is so far inconclusive.

Will I need surgery?

The majority of sports injuries are not severe enough to need surgery. However, badly broken bones may require surgery to realign them. In very severe cases surgeons may need to use metal work to fix the bones into the correct position (open reduction and internal fixation, or ORIF).

Torn ligaments in the knee may also need surgical reconstruction (depending on the severity of the injury).


Rehabilitation following sports injuries is an important aspect of the recovery process. This may involve gentle exercise to get the injured body part moving, which should help the process of healing. It is vital not to do too much too quickly, as this may result in more serious injury.